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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 438


Dr JENSEN (10:41 AM) —I wish to raise again the issue of nuclear power and the Labor government’s secretive and hypocritical stance on the issue. It was reported in the West Australian on 24 January that the Rudd government has secretly maintained a role in a controversial US nuclear energy pact. This is indicative of the dishonest handling of this issue by the Labor government. In opposition, Labor attacked the coalition government for looking to the future of energy provision by having an inquiry into nuclear energy, headed by Ziggy Switkowski. Oddly enough, there appears to have been very little comment from the Left on this new-found interest, albeit previously unannounced, of Labor in nuclear power. No doubt, had it been John Howard who had suggested such a thing, there would have been marches through the streets by the usual cast of skeleton attired professional protesters flourishing the obligatory cardboard coffins.

Now we find that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, apparently signed off on a proposal for Australian officials to participate in talks in Vienna last September on how to manage spent nuclear fuel. How can this sudden but admirable about-face by the government be reconciled with its ongoing antipathy towards ANSTO? My colleague Senator Eric Abetz and I have been on the public record highlighting this government’s budget cuts to ANSTO, which will lose $7.315 million under so-called responsible economic management and a further $11.3 million out of the former nuclear collaborative research program. This reprehensible and counterintuitive funding cut by the government is a clear indication that there is no logical planning, no sensible funding regime and total disingenuousness on the issue of nuclear energy.

If this government had the courage to openly accept the reality of future nuclear power generation, as I know some of its more intellectually credible ministers do, it would not just covertly get behind the only real alternative source of baseload power but also fund its only dedicated nuclear research organisation properly. We do not want to be in the same situation with nuclear scientists that we have been in with trades trained Australians in the past. It takes many years to study to be a nuclear scientist, and you do not get the best brains for your country by slashing funding. I call on the minister to back his scientists and restore funding to ANSTO in the next budget.